Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)
Welcome to the development log of Brief Candle, a research project into the meta narrative of video games. The tone of these devlogs will be informal, sometimes sporadic, and an outlet for the recording of ideas and of a process of development.This first post serves to introduce the topic of this research and what it hopes to achieve.
I would like to start by talking about the inspiration for this project which came from playing games such as The Beginners Guide, Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist, and Kentucky Route Zero. Each of these games treat the medium of a game in a unique way that most triple A games would steer away from. In the example of The Beginners Guide and A Whirlwind Heist the games are aware that they are games. They treat the player as a player and have no issue with addressing the player directly, provoking notions of what the players role is within the world of the game and without the world of the game.
Kentucky Route Zero is similar in some ways but more subtle about its approach, the player is not restricted to one main character or even one main narrative. The game treats the player as an actor as well as an audience to the performance of the game. The developers of the game go so far as to treat the levels of the game as a set, similar to what you would see in a theater production. This notion of theater goes on to influence every facet of the games development, even so far as to break the episodic releases into acts.
We were making these little scenes in Unity, these little 3D scenes, and setting up props and stuff with a whole lot of consideration for the angle the player was going to be looking in from. They started to really look like theater sets.
– Jake Elliot, Cardboard Computer
Initially I looked at these games as a point of study, without a real direction or point I wanted to make. But after doing some digging into the development of these games I discovered that theatricality and set design are the core behind these games and many more. I was intrigued to see how the principles of theater can be used so effectively in a game setting. It was here that I came across the theory of scenography and focused my research onto this topic.
Scenography, by definition, refers to the study and practice of performance design, most often associated with theater. What I would like to explore is how scenography is practiced in game design. Game design is designing a performance, a performance for the player to observe as well as participate in. I find that fact to be the most interesting aspect of this research topic because, if we are designing an experience for an audience, how does that design or design process change now that our audience are also our actors.
To ground this research further I will be employing preexisting theories from theater and using that as a lens for analysing video games and how these theories can be applied to games as well. The reason for theater as a comparative partner in this study is because unlike media such as film or literature, theater is a medium which employs a level of interactivity. That of the interaction between the performance and the audience. The audience can directly effect how the production is performed simply by reacting to what they see on stage. So with that in mind the audience becomes an extra actor in some sense. The scenography of the theater then adds to this by allowing the members of the audience to become invested in the performance, making the audience then more willing to be participants in the goings on of the narrative.
Games have to employ these methods, for a game to be entertaining the player should be invested in it. The investment may not necessarily be in the narrative but the game serves as a platform for the player to be a willing participant. Therefore it makes sense that the scene, or the levels of the game should act as a vessel to accommodate that willingness. What I would like to draw from all of this is, how is that achieved?